Luigi Maramotti talks to Masoud Golsorkhi

Text by Masoud Golsorkhi

Luigi Maramotti is the CEO of Max Mara and founder of the Max Mara Prize, which is only awarded to female artists and is organised in tandem with the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

Masoud Golsorkhi Tell me about the work of the Max Mara art foundation.
Luigi MaramottiIt's not a foundation, which is important for me to underline.

MG What is the distinction?
LM It's a huge distinction. But I have to just tell you that we don't like to speak a lot about the collection in the sense that we prefer to focus on what we do, on the projects. I hope what we do speaks for us, because we don't like this whole idea of foundations, with big collectors.

MG I understand. It doesn't correspond with your sense of modesty.
LM No, no. It's more ideological if you want, and I'm very much against this celebrity of the collector. It's like an extreme act of narcissism, and it's something that is taking the focus away from the artist and the art.

MG But the institution is an open institution. Open to the public.
LM It's a private collection, which is open to the public. Simple as that.

MG And do you have relationships with educational institutions?
LM Oh yes. I mean, it's open, we do projects, but it's not so much educational in traditional terms; it's more to offer opportunities. Normal people take advantage of the opportunity and just make the best use of it without addressing anything. So even if you've been visiting the collection, the permanent collection, we say very little. Just the name of the artist and the year and the title of the painting or the work.

MG Italy, for its size and its cultural significance, has a very small amount of public contemporary art on display.
LM Yes, but it's understandable. There is no money for the public to really take care of these projects. They are in a deficit because we have such a huge amount of historical assets, in terms of art, that for us is already a challenge to integrate. I think it's a good opportunity for private institutions and individuals to fill the gap in contemporary art. I see this as an opportunity, again, for private institutions to set a model, which is slightly different from the ongoing model around the world, which is like one big mass of many people.

MG Big public institutions, like the Tate Modern, that are publicly funded?
LM There is nothing wrong with that. I mean, it's something I respect but I think there is room for something different because if you experienced one of the openings we have here, you would probably meet 200-300 people maximum. So many of the projects that are presented here were conceived for this place, which means the artist develop them with us. They challenge themselves to do something different and new. And, you know, it may work, it may not.

MG For the Max Mara prize, you invite artists to create new work, which is a high-risk strategy. Because having chosen the artist, you are not choosing the art, and they can have a good or bad day?
LM But this is what really links the concept of the prize to the collection. And in the end, there is a big degree of freedom for the artist but there is also a strong connection with the collection because the prize is the residency. And the residency in Italy with the historical background of the Grand Tour, which was really the original idea, is bound to be influential at different levels for the artist and for the work.

MG Why specifically a prize for women, and why did you did you decide to work with a London gallery?
LM We had an opening of the Wilson sisters in 2004, when we hosted this opening in one of our commercial spaces. And we had a discussion with some of the people who came along about how untrue it is that women artists today have the same opportunities. Not everybody agreed with my point so we had a heated discussion.

MG It must have been very heated?
LM Also, as a company, because of what we do, we are thinking of a women's universe. At the same time, I think that the prize was an interesting idea because it was a real bridge. London wasn't a very exciting place for art, because it's not about only about English or British art. You cannot get in touch with the entire body of Italian art, which, to me, is compulsory for an artist. At the same time, we have London as this international centre of the art, yet women aren't particularly supported. If you look at statistics, even something like the recent Turner prize, it's tiny.

MG Four female winners, I think. Three or four.
LM Yes, the majority of the winners are men and Iwona Blazwick, who runs a visionary project at the Whitechapel Gallery, came up with this idea of having a jury made up of women from different areas, not just art. And we took it on enthusiastically. In the end, I think you just have to do things if you feel that they are right. Because in the end, you're left with what? With an opportunity given to a serious and dedicated artist. A new project, a new work. A possibility to show it. For instance, if you think of Margaret Salmon, who was the first winner, the works that she developed here in Italy were seen by the American curator Robert Storr; he picked the work and she was suddenly at the Venice biennale.

MG When the panel is making a selection, do they present their choice to you?
LM No, I know the selection but I watch from outside. From a distance, because I'm interested. But I never have contact, even with Iwona, or have a conversation about it.

MG That's very interesting. So you act as a facilitator?
LM That's a good word.

MG Or co-conspirator.
LM That's a good word too.

MG You only get personally involved in the process once the selection is made?
LM  Yes. Sort of. Maybe we have dinner the first time she comes here. And  with Andrea Büttner we were able to make some introductions and contacts. Mostly I just follow from a distance.

MG There seems to be a resurgence in old-fashioned feminism that's present in the works.
LM Notions from the '60s. 

MG Yes, the '60s version. Because one of the curious things is that the art world is so dominated by the market. And men dominate the market. Which is why when there are as many women coming out of art colleges as there men, most of them don't make it to the top.
LM You've made a good point, one to which I subscribe. Women are often shown the door and have to get back in through the window. It's always a challenge for women. But in general it's always a challenge for all artists. But again, I really would focus more on the art because the problem that we have nowadays is that it's supported by this overwhelming intrusion of economy into the art.

MG I heard that you don't sell anything and you don't deal.
LM No.

MG You only buy and collect. Can you tell me what aspect of Andrea Büttner's work interested you?
LM Her work has been particularly interesting since the first time I saw it for exhibition in Whitechapel. Because in her case, the overlap with Italian culture is the importance of religion in our culture. Not only in our art, but also in our behaviour and this whole idea of shame that's being discussed. It's something that we know very well in this country.

MG Catholicism?
LM I think that her way of dealing with all this material is very subtle and powerful. And in the end, even if the work is very conceptual and has deep significance, the result is very visual. I find this to be very rare. Today you see a lot of people who do conceptual art, and it's very interesting when you read or understand what's behind it. But they often lack the emotional impact she is capable of.

MG So there is a surface impact and a depth behind the ideas?
LM Yes, because you are not bound to just having a fixed interpretation. She's very open. Also, I like the link she has with traditional arts and craft from her regional area. She always goes back to her roots, hence the woodcut and the glass painting. It is in the tradition of decorating the windows in the region where she lived. I found this very interesting because, personally, I'm very interested in the relationship between the common roots of arts and craft, even in contemporary art. §

  • Luigi Maramotti - Masoud Golsorkhi